It depends. Contextualize!

Listen to your body

How many times have you been instructed to “listen to your body”, or to “move freely” in yoga classes and wondered what the heck you”re supposed to do now?

Probably too many…I certainly know I have!

Such expressions are really popular in mainstream yoga and while teachers giving them are most of the time super kind and well intentioned, no one really knows for sure what they are talking about because such statements are empty without the proper context.

Using terms such as “natural”, “embodiment”, “presence”, “freedom”, and especially “soul” and “spirit” without clear contextualization assumes that everyone in the room shares the same agreement on their meaning.

But is that really so??

What this does is create a vague and flowery yoga narrative that might feel comforting in the moment — but in the long run it doesn’t lead anywhere!  After a while, as a teacher, you end up wondering what you are actually talking about.

What am I actually talking about?

That is indeed a valid question to ask ourselves and a prerequisite for contextualization that brings clarity in our teaching 

Let me revisit the popular instruction “Listen to your body…” and contextualize it as an example of what I am talking about .

Step 1: What am I actually talking about here? 

OK, I’m talking about mindfulness of the body. 

Step 2: Can I say this more clearly?

“Listen to your body by tuning inward and sensing the contact of your feet with the ground”

Sept 3: Can I be even more clear? Is this instruction teaching mindfulness? 

Hmm, I need to be more clear with my language in order to teach mindfulness as it is referred to in the First Foundation of Mindfulness from the Buddhist text “Sattipathana Sutta”. 

Final result:

“Listen to your body by turning the attention inward and sensing the contact of your feet with the ground. Feel into the moment-to-moment sensation as they appear, without having to interpret them, evaluate them, or redesign them”

Am I talking about the mindfulness of the body now? Yes, I am! 

Knowing your sources

In order to contextualize my narrative successfully, I need to be totally clear about my sources. In the previous example, my source is mindfulness as taught in the  Zen (Chan) Buddhist tradition, and supported by the latest scientific research on mindfulness.

This is something that I state on my website as one of the core values of the Dynamic Mindfulness School, so people who want to study with me are clear about the context of my teaching and where it comes from. 

Questions to keep asking:

These two questions will help you gain clarity and confidence in what you’re talking about:

What am I basing this upon? 

What are my sources? 

Here are some of the most common sources when it comes to teaching yoga in the 21st century:

  • A yoga tradition that does not support questioning of the founder and/or guru’s teaching and requires me to teach exactly as they taught me.
  • A famous, charismatic yoga teacher whom I follow on social media and whose workshops I have attended. 
  • A popular yoga brand whose teacher training I took because they are globally present.
  • A senior teacher with a clear context in her teaching with whom I have been following, practicing, studying and asking questions for years now.
  • A peer-reviewed scientific article.
  • A platform curated by a group of respected scientists or senior teachers.
  • An ancient text.
  • A comparative study of many ancient texts of a particular tradition. 
  • My own or someone else’s artistic inquiry.

Whatever your source might be, being clear about it with yourself and your students is essential for the integrity in your teaching. 

And I would add, once you’re clear about your sources, test their claims with a simple, powerful “And why are you saying what you’re saying?” 

And see if the answer is a valid one for you!